How has globalization impacted on issues of human rights in a way that leads to
The polarization of work, between those with too much and those with too little or none, is contributing to significant social inequalities. These inequalities have resulted largely from global economic restructuring, with its demands for just-in-time production and a flexible workforce consisting of part-time, contract and temporary employment. The restructuring has fostered an employer strategy of utilizing an ever smaller core of workers whose work time has increased through the extensive use of overtime.
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To supplement the core workforce, employers have drawn on cheap pools of non-standard and disposable workers. High unemployment levels have played a key role in disciplining labour, and maintaining large numbers of skilled and educated labour for capital’s flexible utilization. In view of high unemployment levels, even during periods of sustained expansion.
The global movement of capital
William Adler (2000) closely examines the disrupted lives of the three women who occupy an assembly-line job as the job and its company moves from New Jersey to rural Mississippi and to Matamoros, Mexico, across the border from Brownsville, Texas, in search of productivity and profit through globalization.
It is not that the “old” commodification does not occur today. In Disposable People(1999), Kevin Bales shows how globalization is giving rise to a “new” slavery every bit as serious as the “old” one. But slavery in the modern era is different from slavery in the past, for it strikes the modern Western mind as not only immoral but also old.
With the increasing gap between the top 20 percent and bottom 20 percent of the income scale, more rich can afford such services, and poorer and marginally middle-class people are eager to provide them. As their income rises, wealthy people especially those in high-pressure careers take advantage of the goods and services on this frontier, and many poor people aspire to do so.
New forms of slavery
Still, we can perhaps say that, within American and European culture, modernization has recently altered the character of the commodity frontier. We can speak crudely of newer and older expressions of it. Relative to ours today, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century commodification of domestic life involved a greater merger between service and server. An eighteenth-century white Southern aristocrat who bought a slave bought the person, not the service the ultimate commodification. And the indentured servant differed from the slave only in degree.
The millionaire’s ad for a good masseuse, by contrast, strikes us as modern. It is purely the services, classified and priced, that are up for purchase, at least apparently. The ad seems to tease apart many aspects of what was once one role. Structural differentiation between family and economy, a process in English history, becomes here a cultural idea in a commercial context, which lends itself to an almost jazz like improvisation. As in jazz, the ad plays with the idea of dividing and recombining, suggesting different versions of various combinations.
Especially in its more recent incarnation, the commercial substitutes for family activities often turn out to be better than the “real” thing. Just as the French bakery may make bread better than Mother ever did, and the cleaning service may clean the house more thoroughly, so therapists may recognize feelings more accurately. Even child care workers, while no ultimate substitute, may prove more warm and even-tempered than parents sometimes are. Thus, in a sense, capitalism is not competing with itself, one company against another. Capitalism is competing with the family, and particularly with the role of the wife and mother.
A cycle is set in motion. As the family becomes more minimal, it turns to the market to add what it needs and, by doing so, becomes yet more minimal. This logic also applies to the two functions. It would be left to the family when all the structural differentiation was said and done—socialization of children and adult personality stabilization.
There is a countertrend as well. The cult of Martha Stewart appeals to the desire to resist the loss of family functions to the marketplace. The “do-it yourself” movement of course creates a market niche of its own for the implements and lessons needed to “do it yourself. ”
The global movement of work
Still, the prevailing tending is toward relinquishing family functions to the market realm. And various trends exacerbate this tendency. Most important is the movement of women moving into paid work. In 1950, less than a fifth of mothers with children under six worked in the labor force, while a half century later, two-thirds of such mothers do. Their salary is also now vital to the family budget. Older female relatives who might in an earlier period have stayed home to care for their grandchildren, nephews, and nieces are now likely to be at work too.
In addition, the workday has recently been taking up more hours of the year. According to an International Labor Organization report, Americans now work two weeks longer each year than their counterparts in Japan, the vaunted long-work-hour capital of the world. And many of these long-hour workers are also trying to maintain a family life. Between 1989 and 1996 for example, middle-class married couples increased their annual work hours outside the home, from 3,550 to 3,685, or more than three extra 40-hour weeks of work a year.
Over the last half century, the American divorce rate has also increased to 50 percent, and a fifth of households with children are now headed by single mothers, most of whom get little financial help from their former husbands and most of whom work full-time outside the home. Like the rising proportion of women who work outside the home, divorce also, in effect, reduces the number of helping hands at home—creating a need or desire for supplemental forms of care.
If there are fewer helping hands at home, the state has done nothing to ease the burden at home. Indeed, the 1996 welfare reforms reduced state aid to parents with dependent children, causing responsibility to devolve to the states, which have in turn reduced aid, even for food stamps. Many states have also implemented cutbacks in public recreation and parks and library programs designed to help families care for children.
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In addition to the depletion of both private and public resources for care, there is an increasing uncertainty associated with cultural ideas about the “proper” source of it. The traditional wife-mother role has given way to a variety of different arrangements—wives who are not mothers, mothers who are not wives, second wives and stepmothers, and lesbian mothers. And while these changes in the source of care are certainly not to be confused with a depletion of care, the changing culture itself gives rise to uncertainties.
Globalization is currently creating new social class patterns. The professional class in rich countries now draws more exclusively on female immigrant labor, which is a product of economic dislocations that stem from globalization.
Dividing up the wife-mother role as implied in the ad is “structural” in the sense that a person in a given role (a paid hostess-masseuse outside the family) carries out a function a wife might be expected to perform inside the family. But it is also psychological and cultural, for this role is the focus of strongly felt beliefs.
It can be concluded this idea should not be pursued in abstract, but it can be analyzed in larger perspective by looking at real problems: globalization, identity, risk, trust, civil society, democracy, new forms of labor, social exclusion, cultural traumas, and so on.
Bales, Kevin. Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press 1999.
Adler, William M. Mollie’s Job: A Story of Life and Work on the Global Assembly Line. New York: Scribner 2000.